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17 September 2014
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Woodland activities

Wildlife safari

Castlewellan

Winter woodlands offer great opportunities for wildlife watching so why not join us on a nature safari and take a few tips from the Nature's Calendar's team.

Here are several activities that you can try out during the winter months.

Take to the woods for a glimpse of winter wildlife.


Toad patrol

The New Forest is a good place to watch Toads in winter due to its many ponds which provide ideal habitats for mating and spawning.

During February visitors can witness the Toad breeding season, but to make the most of this nature activity, you'll need to differentiate between Toads and Frogs.

Frog and Toad differences

Frog* Toads have a rougher, warty texture to their skin than Frogs - the warts contain a toxic secretion to protect them from predators.

* Females are generally larger than male Toads.

* Olive-brown skin colour.

* Orange eyes with black pupils. Compare this with the picture of the Frog above.

* Toads tend to walk or crawl rather than hop because they have weaker hind legs than frogs.

* Males can be easily recognised by the nuptial pads on their forelimbs which are used to cling on to females during the mating season.

* Only male Toads croak.

When to see the toads

ToadsLook for ponds where the Toads go to mate in the breeding season.

You won't see many Toads during the daytime because they tend to keep underwater to avoid predators.

Night time is the best time to see them during the safety of darkness when they emerge to mate.

Getting to a pond can be a hazardous business for the Toads - many get killed crossing roads at nigh time.

Why not join a Toad Patrol for a better view - join a night time group and you could save a Toad's life.

The New Forest patrol have been known to rescue as many as 150 Toads in one evening.

To find out more about amphibians - contact the ARG Herpetofauna Group

Ant action!

AntHardcastle Crags in Yorkshire is one of the best places in Britain to see the Northern Hairy Ant in its home environment.

Look out for ant hills up to six feet in height - they are often covered by piles of pine needles, leaves and twigs.

* Once up close and personal, take a magnifying glass or binoculars to identify the ants' hairy eyebrows.

* Watch for workers carrying out different roles but don't disturb them too much - watch don't interfere with the nest.

* Hairy ants are highly defensive and their primary weapon is Formic Acid so why not try a quick test.

* Place a piece of litmus paper on the nest and watch the ants go for it - you'll be able see the paper change colour.

* A PH value of 14 is extremely alkaline whilst pH 1 one is very acidic. You should find that the paper turns almost bright red with a pH value of around 1.5, in response to the Formic Acid.

Easy listening - bird song

Blue TitListening to bird song is an activity you can have fun with in almost any woodland during the winter.

February is an especially good month to hear native bird song because it's at this time of the year that British birds are at their most vocal.

SONGBIRD FILE

Song Thrush - repeats its note several times.

Chaffinch - a short, distinctive phrasing characterises its song which accelerates and descends with a flourish at the end of the sequence.

Coal Tit - short, 'peeping' bursts.

Great Tit - a squeaky, continuous, peeping sound.

Blue Tit - a longer, chirping call.

Robin - a tuneful trilling song.

For the best bird song, turn up early during the dawn chorus and bring a video recorder so you can film and record the birds at the same time.

Alternatively, why not use an mp3 player and its dictation microphone to pick up the sounds of the birds.

Then take your recorder back home, play back the sounds and match the bird to the song - it's a great way of teaching yourself bird song!

The BBC Science and Nature website has a good section on identifying bird song.


There are also many recordings available on CD and on the internet including on the RSPB website in the A-Z Guide to UK Birds section.

 

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